You have just completed a special event assignment or have completed a critical event as the incident commander. Now, that it is over, what is next? Usually an after action report (AAR) of some flavor is needed. So what is the best way to approach this, what do you need to consider and why do we produce these reports anyway?
The biggest reason why we produce an after action report is to share the lessons learned to prepare for the future. Sharing our learning curve is very important today. We can no longer work disconnected and disjoined from other agencies and disciplines. This is the reason for mutual aid and regional all hazards task forces. Share today so tomorrow’s commanders will not have to face hurdles that you have overcome.
After all the debriefings, review of reports and other assorted items it is time to get beyond the investigative quotient (who, what, when, where and why). Time to capture what really went on when on the ground and what we can takeaway from this for the future. One element is honesty. No department likes to admit to an error but it is critical we tell all. If we hide our mistakes, it could conceivably cost another cop his or her life.
Start with the A’s
Fully capture all of the Activities that you had to oversee. Be sure to capture those that were within your area of responsibilities and those that were not. Sometimes we have to oversee a discipline that is out of the ordinary. It is not your job but it had to get done. What were the other activities that were going on simultaneously or collateral operations? Hint: get their after action reports for your appendix.
Look at this from the 20,000 foot level. Were there any Arguments that occurred during this event? What were the reasons (founded or unfounded) and how did they inhibit the operation. What was done to overcome these problems (real or perceived)? What can be done to prevent this from happening again? Is there a need to have a meeting to soothe ruffled feathers and get all to sing cum-by-ya again. I do not mean a love fest but a meeting to prevent disconnect in the future because of tender feelings.
Fully review any and all Accidents that occurred. I would also include near misses as well. What can be done to mediate them and enhance safety? In all of my work I promote safety at every level. Be sure to review staff fatigue and post incident stress. Review your plans for rest/rehab in the next event if it should go prolonged. Have staff contact human resources for compliance with any medical follow-ups and compliance for reporting accidents/injuries.
Time for the I’s
Now it is time to fully address the Issues and how they were observed, perceived, and handled. Reporting systems and communication here needs to be reviewed. Timely reporting allows proper responses. What reoccurring issues will always be there to plague commanders in the future and how can they be addressed now. What support needs to be enhanced to mitigate some issues (again real and perceived)? Who were the solution providers and who inhibited success. Examine all of the issues microscopically to appreciate them for their learning potential.
What was the Intel we can take away from this event? Often many of our tasks are not open source, internal or just plain classified. What are the lessons that can promote how we handle the intel component? How effectively was the handling of intelligence and its process? Did those who need it receive quality intel in real time. Were there any leaks and how can these breeches be best handled.
Finally the closing should Inspire all concerned. If there are laudatory comments to be made, praise all; not only the police. If there is discipline, then it should be private within proper decorum and policy. One fatal flaw with most after action reports is that we praise only ourselves and not others. If you had other disciplines (Fire, EMS, EMA) working in conjunction with you, be sure to thank them and praise when appropriate.
It is incumbent that we inspire others to take on the demands of the next operation. The old days of ‘I handled mine and you handle yours’ is over with and this line of thinking is destroying the very spirit of cooperation between all of the emergency services, it must end now. I am not saying put a positive spin on everything. There are some problems that you cannot dress up and pass off. Sometimes, we must roll up our sleeves and invest some sweat equity into fixing it once and for all, and then we can praise our work but only after it is completed.
Your after action report should be a living breathing document. It will serve as a product and a resource for the future leaders to see how we got to the level of success that we enjoy every day.
About The Author:
William L. "Bill" Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department. He served in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. He has published several articles in professional periodicals and has lectured nationwide. He is serving as a chief of police in central Pennsylvania area; a duty he’s performed for the past nine years. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.